June 2014

OPINION: Joie de vivre en Europe

Fiona RintoulWhen there is a national election in a European country, lots of commentaries from fund management companies on what the result means for investors come rattling into my inbox. I was a little surprised, then, that the results of the European elections in May were met with stony silence. Far-right and far-left triumphed in many countries, and no one had anything to say about it. The only even vaguely related comment I received was from Neptune, but even that was really about the UK election in 2015 and the glorious prospect of an in/out referendum thereafter.   What does this mean? Do fund managers – like voters – not care about the European elections? Do they think they don’t matter? Or were the results so disparate and national in nature that it was impossible to draw any coherent, general conclusions?  I suspect the latter is the main reason for this surprising silence. That and the fact that the balance of power in the European parliament is broadly unchanged despite the various national implosions that took place last month.  Nonetheless, I do strongly feel that those of us who are in favour of the European Union (and if you’re not in favour of the European Union, I’m afraid you’re reading the wrong magazine) ought and indeed must speak up at this juncture.  It’s time for us to talk about how great the European Union is – what a joy it is to be part of it. It’s time to celebrate everything it has brought us. You work in an industry that has benefited hugely from the single market. Yes, progress towards a single market in financial services has sometimes been glacial, but who wants to go back to the days before 1985 and the Ucits directive?  And who in London or Paris or Frankfurt wants to do without the skilled staff who have headed westwards since the European Union expanded eastwards? Even at the tiny micro level of me, a snivelling little putzerfisch feeding on the fringes of your industry, withdrawal of my home country from the European Union would be disastrous for business.  No more popping over to Luxembourg to run training courses.  No more trips to Brussels to help edit this or that white paper. No more quick translations for clients in Germany. Think what it would mean for your business. But it’s not just about business. Think about how much richer our lives are culturally, linguistically, culinarily – richer in almost every conceivable way – because we can potter about freely within the 28 member states of the European Union and people from those 28 members can potter about freely in our home countries.  Recently, some Czech friends of ours came round for dinner to our flat in Glasgow bringing a bottle of Russian champagne and their thoughts on the Czech government. When I was a child, that would have been impossibly exotic – virtually impossible, in fact. WARNING SHOT
Of course, the European parliament is remote from the people. (I admit that I had to look up my MEPs on the internet before going to the polling station on 22 May in order to have the faintest idea who they were, never mind who was standing against them). Of course there need to be reforms.  But the foghorn voices of the anti-European brigade are drowning out the majority here. Populist sound bites about immigration are obscuring the reciprocal reality of the European Union. Those of us who love diversity and freedom of movement need to counter-attack.  When was the last time you heard someone talking with joy and passion about the European Union? The time to start is now. And I’m very much afraid that this isn’t a task for politicians. It’s a task for you and me – the beneficiaries.  A warning shot has been fired. Let’s not ignore it. ©2014 funds europe

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